a collection of all sorts of written thoughts from Kavii
Hey, Where's My Wallet?! - identity theft and you!
So a few weeks ago before I joined PC, my wallet went [B]M[/B]issing [B]I[/B]n [B]A[/B]ction.
Even though I eventually got it back, I was forced to deal with the very real and very troublesome (and to some people, very frightening) consequences and fallout related to the MIA status of my wallet and I would like to take the time to share with you all my experiences related to having a wallet gone missing and the steps I took to safegaurd against identity theft.
I know that a lot of you aren't legal adults yet and so maybe think that identity theft is an adult-only problem, but in all honesty, you are never too young to learn about identity theft and identity theft can actually happen to anyone no matter the age!
Safeguard yourself, safeguard your family, safeguard your friends and just take a few minutes to read through this post.
The steps I took were done under the advice of my local police department, the three major credit reporting bureaus in my country, my credit card issuers, and my banks.
If you don't want to trust me, then at least trust them!
[B]First things first, what is identity theft?[/B]
Identity theft is a situation where someone who gets a hold of your personally identifying information (Driver's License or other State-Issued or Government-Issued ID like Passports, bank accounts, credit card accounts, Social Security Number, etc) and is using your information to pose as you and is doing business while posing as you.
[B]How does it happen?[/B]
As long as someone who shouldn't (like a total stranger, a pickpocket, a thief, scammers on the internet) can get a hold of your personally identifying information (Driver's License or other Government-Issued ID, Social Security Number, other ID with similarly identifying information that can be used to open accounts or apply for things), identity theft can happen.
Most common ways that ID theft happens: lost wallet in a public area, stolen wallet, giving out personally identifying information (Driver's License or ID numbers, Social Security Number, Credit Card information) to scammers.
[B]What could they be doing with the information?[/B]
They could be: using your credit cards/debit cards to buy things, opening bank accounts under your name, opening credit cards/lines of credit under your name, applying for things under your name (like health insurance), and otherwise destroying your personal reputation and/or personal credit history.
[B]Whoa. That's unreal! Are you lying?[/B]
For those of you wondering if I'm just over dramatizing things, I'm NOT.
It is amazing in a scary sort of way what someone can do with your information and even scarier is the fact that if you don't take the proper steps to report the incident right away it can take YEARS to clean up the identity theft mess and you COULD be held liable for anything that you didn't report in a timely manner.
Unfortunately, a lot of people have had their identities stolen and used and abused and don't find out about it until later (when they are applying for a mortgage loan or car loan or applying for housing or applying for a credit card) and at that point, it is often very difficult to fix.
The point is, the sooner you report it/take care of the problem, the better.
[B]How do I know if I am at risk?[/B]
Depending on what you carry in your wallet (or pocketbook or purse) and how careful or careless you are about giving out personal information on the internet and how careful or careless other people are about protecting the information you share with them (for example, online shopping sites, insurance companies, credit card companies), identity theft really can happen to anyone.
However, using the example regarding a lost or stolen wallet, here is a potential breakdown.
Wallet 1: Cash, bus ticket, no identifying information
Wallet 2: Cash, credit cards, bank cards (debit and ATM cards), Driver's License
Wallet 1 has nothing in it to identify the person whom the wallet belonged to. It sucks the wallet went missing in a public place or was stolen, but that's it. There's really nothing to worry about in regards to identity theft because there is no identity attached to the wallet.
Wallet 2, however, contains not only an identification card (the Driver's License) but also contains credit cards and bank cards. For this reason, this wallet's owner is at higher risk for identity theft.
[B]How much risk were you in?[/B]
So for myself, I had my Driver's License, health insurance card, personal credit cards, personal debit cards, business credit cards (I own my own business), business debit cards, and receipts from my last ATM transaction.
Basically, I lost EVERYTHING save for my Social Security Number when that wallet went missing so I was considered to be in a very high risk group for identity theft.
Additionally, because I had my business credit cards and debit cards, I had to be concerned about my identity theft happening to my BUSINESS as well.
What a PAIN. IN. THE. ASS.
[B]What were you worried about in regards to what might happen?[/B]
I was worried about someone using my credit and debit cards to make unauthorized purchases.
I was worried about someone using my personal identification in combination with my bank cards/debit cards to gain access to my actual bank accounts.
I was worried about someone using my personal identification to open banking accounts and apply for credit cards, loans, and whatever else under my name.
In relation to that, I was worried about how such things might then affect my credit report and my credit score.
[B]You keep talking about a 'credit report' and 'credit score'. What is a credit report and how is it important to me?[/B]
For those of you who are adults and who have any sort of a line of credit or have taken out a loan from a bank, car dealership, or have otherwise been in ANY sort of a situation where your credit report has been looked at (applying for apartment housing for example), then you have something called a credit report.
In the United States, there are three primary credit reporting bureaus who establish credit reports and you will have a credit report with each of these companies. These companies are: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
A credit report is like a lifetime report card that details your personal information (name, places you have lived since you were an adult, places you have worked at), any and all lines of credit you have been issued, and how you have done in regards to managing your credit and debts.
If you have been late on payments, it will show. If you filed a bankruptcy, it will show. If you opened a credit card and closed it within a month, it will show. And, if someone other than you used your information to open lines of credit or falsify information regarding you, it will be in there, too. Obviously that is exactly what you don't want to happen.
This report is mostly used to determine how risky you are as a potential borrower or a potential tenant if you are applying for housing. Nobody wants to issue credit to someone who will never pay on time and nobody wants to have a tenant who will never pay their rent on time, either.
The sum of how good or how bad your credit report is equates to a credit score like how a 90%+ in school usually = an A while a 50%- = an F. Different companies calculate their numbers differently, but on a whole, the numbers all say the same thing in the end (how risky or non risky you are as a potential borrower). Obviously, a good score is what you're aiming for!
This report is PRIVATE to you (so your neighbor can't see it unless they know a crapload of your personal information including Social Security Number amongst other things), BUT certain groups like credit card companies, banks, loan issuers, apartment housing management CAN get authorized access to view your report to determine your eligibility for loans or housing.
Your credit report and the resulting credit score is important to you because it is a primary factor in determining your elgibility for things like car loans, mortgages, apartment housing, and credit cards. Furthermore, it can affect how good of a rate you will get when you are given a line of credit. The lower the interest rate, the better for you!
Without going into further detail, I think it is safe to say that one's personal credit report and credit score are very important things and the information contained or added to it should be protected.
You don't want Joe Blow to open up accounts under your name and do fraudulent activity on it and have it show up on your credit report as a big fat strike against you, right?
Didn't think so!
[B]YIKES! So what did you have to do to protect your identity and protect your credit report and make sure nothing bad happened?[/B]
To make sure I would not be responsible for any purchases made on the missing/stolen credit cards and debit cards, I called every single one of my credit card companies and banks to report my cards lost/stolen. The cards were all cancelled, fraud alerts were placed on all the accounts, and I was issued new cards.
To make sure that no one would be able to file unauthorized medical claims through my health insurance card, I called my health insurance provider and they placed a fraud alert on my account.
To alert potential lenders about the possibility of someone opening up unauthorized accounts under my name, I placed what is called a Fraud Alert on each and every one of my credit reports at these three credit report bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The good news is is that you can do it all online or through a phone call.
To officialize everything, I went to my local police department and filed an Identity Theft report which would serve as 'proof' that I had taken all the necessary steps to prevent identity theft from happening. A copy of this report was sent to the credit reporting bureaus I mentioned above to show them proof that I could potentially be a victim of future identity theft. This would allow a longer term Fraud Alert be placed on my account free of charge if I needed it.
Since I own a business and since my business information was missing as well, I had to repeat all of these steps (except for the police because I filed both at the same time) for my business accounts and business credit reports as well.
[B]So everything is taken care of now?[/B]
Since I alerted all of my lenders about my situation and because I made sure to get Fraud Alert placed on all of my credit reports, I have severely cut down the chances of identity theft happening to me.
I will not be responsible for any fraudulent charges on my bank accounts or credit accounts as a result of someone using my stolen cards.
For anyone to apply for a line of credit or open a credit-related account, they will have to go through an extra process to determine that I am who I say I am because of the Fraud Alerts I placed on my credit reports. In other words, it will be a lot more difficult for someone other than me to open an account of any sort under my name using my information that they stole from me.
It was a hassle to get everything taken care of, but it was well worth it in the end.
In closing, I will just recap to say that identity theft is a serious situation to be caught in, but there ARE ways to go about safeguarding against it should you need to.
It is cliche to say this, but knowledge really IS power and knowing what to do NOW can prevent longterm problems for the LATER.
[B]PS:[/B] In relation to all of that, thank you, American Express!
You guys went above and beyond expectations in helping me get everything taken care of and I really appreciate it.
The follow up phone calls from both your Security team and Customer service departments for both personal and business that I received over the course of the week that followed have shown me that you care about ME and not just about the business I have with you.
Yes, I am doing fine and yes, I did file the Fraud Alerts on all of my credit reports and yes, I did file the police report. Thank you for adding extra security measures on my accounts and rushing my new cards to me and most of all...
Thank you for simply caring enough to follow up on me without me asking you to.
You now have in me a card member for life.
Posted April 27th, 2010 at 2:09 AM by Dukey
Posted April 27th, 2010 at 2:40 AM by Zet
Posted April 27th, 2010 at 3:04 AM by Kavii
Posted May 3rd, 2010 at 3:21 PM by morrison
Posted July 20th, 2012 at 6:31 PM by dhalJ